What could you do with an extra $2 billion?
Most people can come up with a few answers to that query, which was posed Tuesday by a notable investor and philanthropist hoping to bring Santa Barbara into a statewide discussion, debating the merit of an oil extraction fee.
The hefty figure was presented as the annual revenue California was losing by not charging oil companies a fee to drill — the only major oil-producing state that doesn’t do so.
Key community climate activists and leaders gathered at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum for a roundtable dialogue led by Tom Steyer, founder and president of NextGen Climate, an organization that acts (and donates) politically to ward off climate disaster.
Steyer, a San Francisco native in town to give a closed talk Tuesday at UC Santa Barbara, spent the morning in the one-hour session hosted with the Community Environmental Council to gauge whether residents would back a 9 percent oil extraction tax.
A powerhouse roster of UCSB professors, lawyers, nonprofit and school leaders also addressed who could most benefit from the extra money.
Activists debated legislation versus a ballot proposition, and if funds should be allotted for special services or just returned directly to residents.
Others cautioned revenue from oil extraction could inadvertently incentivize production.
“We want a fair shake for the people of California,” Steyer said, referring to his Fair Shake campaign.
UCSB student Alexandria Choate said she’s been closely following the progress of SB 1017, a bill going through the State Senate that would allocate oil extraction fees to higher education and other social services.
She said she was more optimistic for putting a proposition on the 2016 ballot.
Maricela Morales of CAUSE suggested activists take a more offensive role, helping to engage low-income communities in a conversation about environment and commercial tax reform.
Steyer agreed, explaining that Latinos, Asian Americans and African Americans were most supportive of the environment — not everyone driving around in electric cars.
Attendees said schools need more funding, a sentiment shared by Dave Cash, superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, who lamented that Proposition 30 merely staved off further cuts.
“It didn’t restore much of anything, quite frankly,” he said. “People who look like me send their kids to private schools, divorcing themselves from public education.”
Steyer said NextGen would soon release results of a poll looking at whether Californians would support an oil extraction tax.
Locals ended the conversation with a slight sense of urgency, hoping to keep the discussion going long after Steyer's visit.